Private Investor: Mining wonder full of Eastern and Western promise

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The Independent Online

They say you shouldn't invest in a company you don't understand, but what about one that you can't pronounce? You can't talk about Kazakhmys and its mine in Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, or its top management, Vladimir Kim, Yong Keu Cha and Oleg Novachuk, or indeed the nation's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, without getting a little tongue tied, but we oughtn't to hold that against it.

Usually a name like Kazakhmys makes me glaze over the surrounding words, but it has caught my eye because of all the coverage it has had recently. It's been quite heavily tipped in some of the new year share guides, and it became one of the first, if not the first, company from the former Soviet Union to have a listing on the London Stock Exchange when it floated three months ago. Nor is it one one of those odd AIM mining tiddlers that have enjoyed such a vogue recently. It is the world's ninth or tenth largest copper producer, a very good business to be in at the moment, and is so large that it qualifies for membership of the FTSE 100 Index.

Twenty years ago I don't think I could have conceived of the idea of investing in a copper mining company in a now firmly ex-Communist and independent Kazakhstan, but that is a measure of the distance the world has travelled in that short time.

In fact, such ventures have a long pedigree and it is precisely the sort of thing Edwardian investors used to go in for. Witness those picturesque line engraved share certificates for long defunct Czarist-era and Imperial Chinese mining and railway companies you occasionally see in junk shops and auctions.

Apart from their aesthetic appeal and some tiny token dividends from repentant governments, these shares are now worthless. Will the same happen to shares in Kazakhmys?

There are certainly risks. It is in a part of the world where the wars on Terror and in Iraq and the geopolitical rivalries of China, Russia, America and the Islamic world all intersect. Democracy and human rights aren't all they might be, although things could be worse. Only 10 per cent of the company was actually floated and the shares are relatively illiquid.

Against all that are its prospects. For its proximity to China also puts it in an excellent position to capitalise on the long-term Chinese growth story. That could soon undergo a nasty reversal, and shares in concerns such as Kazakhstan might well take a knock. So this might not be the best time to buy. It might be best to wait for some bad news story to come out of China or Kazakhstan and buy on the weakness.

A world away from central Asian copper mines we find Green King. I've been meaning to buy into this brewer ever since it took over one of my investments, Belhaven Breweries, last year. Despite being bought out I didn't see why I shouldn't continue to enjoy some of the action in the brewing and pub trades, and, not having been offered Green King shares instead of cash, I had to buy some instead. As with all the brewers, it stands to do well out of the long-term trend towards longer and more leisurely drinking habits and the tendency for people to eat and drink out more as they get older and richer. So I'm very happy to have redressed the portfolio's balance there.

The no-brainer investment option at the moment seems to me to be our old friends at Google, which I bought into profitably last year. There cannot be many products that so many of us use one way or another every day of our lives (the BBC and water are the others, I suppose). There is speculation about it taking on Microsoft, and winning. That's fighting talk. Should I start to be worried?

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